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Hyperion Records

CDA67736 - Handel & Haydn: Angela Hewitt plays Handel & Haydn
Photo of Angela Hewitt by James Cheadle.

Recording details: March 2009
Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin, Germany
Produced by Ludger Böckenhoff
Engineered by Ludger Böckenhoff
Release date: September 2009
Total duration: 67 minutes 20 seconds


'Hewitt distils the essence of the original instruments without compromsing her out-and-out commitment to the modern keyboard … the large-scale Haydn E flat Sonata is superb, above all the middle movement in an astonishing and other-wordly E major. Hewitt's dynamic range is bold … and the glittering facility of the final Presto is thrilling. Altogether a splendid contribution to these composers' anniversary year' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Everything emerges with an impressive combination of clarity and vitality … the programme is unique to the current catalogue, and Hewitt's favoured Fazioli instrument has been recorded with superb fidelity' (International Record Review)

'What intrigues me most about Angela Hewitt's playing is the tension between the expressive restrictions of her 18th-century repertoire, and the imagination she deploys so fully within its boundaries … she takes pains to make each strand of the music apparent to the listener … technical virtuosity put to the service of Haydn's brilliant wit' (Fanfare, USA)

'Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt, famous for playing Bach, commands the very different, more Italianate style of Handel. The last work on the disc is Haydn's great E flat Sonata and I like Hewitt's way with its Adagio best of all' (Daily Mail)

Handel & Haydn: Angela Hewitt plays Handel & Haydn
Adagio  [3'08]
Allegro  [2'27]
Adagio  [2'15]
Allegro: Fugue  [2'16]
Prelude  [2'40]
Allegro: Fugue  [2'44]
Allemande  [2'56]
Courante  [2'01]
Gigue  [2'33]
Allegro moderato  [7'59]
Adagio  [6'22]
Finale: Presto  [5'52]

Recorded and released in the ‘anniversary year’ of both Handel and Haydn, Hyperion’s Record of the Month is an effusive celebration of the two composers, performed by an artist whose renditions of 17th- and 18th-century keyboard works on the piano have received the highest possible acclaim. This recital is a welcome gesture from the ‘high priestess of Bach’ (The Sunday Times). As you will hear, Hewitt’s trademark clarity of line, singing tone and instinctive musicality are perfectly suited to the urbane elegance of the works recorded here.

In a fascinating and personal booklet note, Angela Hewitt takes the listener through her own childhood experiences of the works of Handel and Haydn that led her to select the works for this disc, and includes an interesting discussion of historical performance practice. This is an enchanting release that will delight Angela’s legion of fans.

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In the year this recording was made, we celebrate the 250th anniversary of the death of George Frideric Handel (1685–1759) and the 200th anniversary of the death of Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809). Such an occasion gives us the chance to better acquaint ourselves with two composers who were remarkably popular and celebrated in their lifetimes (Handel more than Bach, Haydn even more than Mozart), and yet who were later overshadowed and somewhat forgotten until they regained their popularity in the last century. Handel was feted in England (he lived there from 1712 until his death), became a British citizen, and his funeral in Westminster Abbey, where he is buried in Poet’s Corner, was attended by 3,000 people. Haydn (who sojourned twice in England, in 1791–2 and 1794–5) was equally loved by the English, but his renown reached as far as Stockholm, St Petersburg and even Cádiz.

They of course both grew up in German-speaking countries (Handel in Halle, Thuringia, and Haydn in Rohrau, Austria) and both showed gifts for music at an early age. Handel received a spinet as a present from his aunt on his seventh birthday, but had to practise in hiding (in the attic) so that his father, determined that his son should be a lawyer, would not find out. As a young man of eighteen he went, along with his friend Mattheson, to audition for the post of organist at the Marienkirche in Lübeck where Buxtehude was retiring, but they hastily retreated when they learned that whoever got the post had to marry Buxtehude’s elderly daughter. While in Hamburg as a violinist at the opera, he met Prince Ferdinando di Medici who invited him to go to Italy. There he spent over three years in Florence, Rome, Naples and Venice, studying with Corelli and absorbing the Italian Baroque style which never left him after that. He also ‘competed’ with the great harpsichordist Domenico Scarlatti. They were declared equal winners on the harpsichord, but Scarlatti conceded that Handel was the unrivalled master of the organ. The two nevertheless formed a close friendship and held each other in great esteem.

As a child, Haydn attended the famous St Stephen’s Choir School in Vienna. Around the time when his voice was breaking he managed to get himself expelled for cutting off a fellow pupil’s pigtail as a joke. Though always getting himself into mischief (a quality ever-present in his music) Haydn, unlike Handel, hardly travelled except for his trips to England, preferring to remain in the employment of the Esterházy family for thirty years. Like Handel, he was incredibly prolific. Haydn made an unfortunate choice of bride (he was first in love with his future wife’s sister, but she entered a convent) and suffered an unhappy marriage which bore no children. He was once quoted as saying about his wife: ‘It’s all the same to her whether her husband is a cobbler or an artist.’ His mistresses included the singer Luigia Polzelli, whose son Antonio was thought to be his. Handel, on the other hand, never married and kept his personal affairs very discreet. He did, however, have a gluttonous appetite. So much for some brief biographical comparisons.

My own experience with Handel—apart from learning some of the easy keyboard pieces and turning pages for my father when he played the organ in Messiah or excerpts from the Water Music at weddings—began with playing some of his sonatas on the violin and recorder, two other instruments I studied as a child. When I was fifteen years old, and already studying at university as a special student, we were given the Suite No 2 in F major as a quick study in our end-of-year exam—to learn and memorize (optional, but I did it) in a week. I was struck then by the exquisite beauty of the opening movement, as I still am now every time I play it.

Soon after this I first played the Chaconne (with 21 variations) in G major HWV435 at a workshop on piano literature. I learned it from a collection called Le Panthéon des Pianistes which of course was highly suspect and heavily edited. But we cared less about such things in those days! The work makes a great opener in recital, as indeed it does for this recording. In the Baroque era, the chaconne was a triple-metre composition whose bass line and harmonic structure, normally descending stepwise (as it does here in the first four bars), is used as an outline for subsequent variations. These variations often begin with figurations that get quicker as we go along: for instance, after the theme, in which the predominant note value is a crotchet, the first two variations introduce quavers, the next two variations go into triplets, and the next four are in semiquavers. The figuration jumps from one hand to another while the musical content remains relatively simple. Variation 9 turns to the minor mode and a slower tempo. The mood becomes lyrical and expressive, even plaintive. The next eight variations (9–16) stick to the minor, and for me really make this piece something special. Again we have a quickening of note values, but also a suggested quickening of tempo (nothing is written in the score to tell us to do so, but it seems a very natural thing to do). The notes are no longer just for show, but rather their gestures (two-note sighs, descending scales) add a great deal of expressive content. Variation 15, with descending octaves in the bass, builds up the excitement, leaving the last minor variation, number 16, quite vehement in its emotion.

Now comes the confusing part. In the Bärenreiter edition, the rest of the piece is quite different from the version I originally learned (and which is almost identical to that published by Peters). Of course I considered it, and tried to understand the different sources (no easy matter), but ultimately rejected it. If you want to hear the other version, then Trevor Pinnock for one plays it on his recording. It didn’t seem to me as satisfying as the conclusion that I was used to (although to me it sounds much more convincing played on the harpsichord than on the piano). So I have unashamedly stuck to my old version (which Edwin Fischer also played, so at least I’m in good company!). It brings the major mode back calmly after the storm, building up to a tremendous climax. I was happy to read in the Bärenreiter edition: ‘The repeat marks are better ignored.’ Good advice, I think. Especially when you consider that Handel wrote another similar G major Chaconne with 62 variations, and if you repeated all of those, you’d be there for a while. I do incorporate some other textual differences from the Bärenreiter edition into the version on this recording which I think are an improvement.

It was while in England that Handel probably wrote most of his keyboard compositions. The Chaconne was first published in 1733, but his ‘First Set of Suites’ appeared in 1720. They were most likely written in 1717 when Handel was resident composer at Cannons—an estate in Edgware, razed to the ground in 1747. As some of the movements had previously been published in an unauthorized copy while Handel was away from London, he felt it necessary to explain this in his dedication to the English nation:

I have been obliged to publish Some of the following lessons because Surrepticious and incorrect copies of them had got abroad. I have added several new ones to make the Work more usefull which if it meets with a favourable reception: I will Still proceed to publish more reckoning it my duty with my Small talent to Serve a Nation from which I have receiv’d so Generous a Protection.

I have already remarked on the exquisite opening of the Suite No 2 in F major HWV427. If you play this for somebody without telling them who wrote it, I bet the last person they would name would be Handel. Many would say Bach. Below a beautifully florid melody (the ornamentation is mostly written out), a stately bass gradually descends the scale, jumping up an octave twice to start another descent, the last time with more chromaticisms thrown in. This meditation ends in A minor, leading us without a pause into the subsequent Allegro. This is an instrumental piece (the top line could easily be played by the violin) transcribed for keyboard. The third-movement Adagio needs some additional ornamentation added by the performer. That was the only clue given to me by my professor when I learned it as a quick study, and I still stick mostly to what I sketched in all those years ago. The flourishes, though, in the last two bars are original Handel, and I can’t claim to have invented those! The concluding Allegro is a four-voice fugue with a very affirmative subject. Handel’s part-writing may not be as sophisticated and masterful as Bach’s, but this is still an excellent example of his polyphonic style.

The Suite No 8 in F minor HWV433 is new to my repertoire. Reading it through, I was immediately attracted by the second movement, which is a terrific Handelian fugue. Handel, who often borrowed from his own music, let alone from that of others, arranged this fugue for oboe, two violins and continuo and inserted it as the last movement of the Sonata in G minor HWV404. The final Gigue (which perhaps inspired Mozart to write his Little Gig in G major) is also very attractive, and has great swing. In between we have a jaunty Allemande and a Courante, whose initial musical motif occurs, among other places, in his Dixit Dominus HWV232 (No 6, ‘Dominus a dextris tuis’). The suite opens, however, with a Prelude marked Adagio whose dotted rhythms are very much in the French style. When you begin to learn it, you realize that Handel goes for fifteen bars without ever coming to anything resembling a cadence, and even at that point he keeps moving forward to the end, finally settling not on the tonic, but rather on the dominant. It makes an imposing beginning to a very fine work.

Haydn wrote his Sonata ‘Un piccolo divertimento’ (Variations in F minor), Hob XVII:6, in Vienna in 1793, the year between his two sojourns in London. His first trip there had been at the invitation of the violinist-impresario Salomon who had his own concert series. Haydn’s success was immediate and overwhelming. He was entertained by royalty, given an honorary degree from Oxford University, and gave piano lessons for which he was paid a guinea (which he said made his eyes ‘pop out of his head’). He had also become familiar with English fortepianos, especially Broadwood, with their darker, richer sound which no doubt influenced his keyboard writing. This set of variations is his most famous single piece for piano, and is a true gem.

It was written for Mozart’s pupil Babette von Ployer (for whom Mozart had written his concertos K449 and K453), but then later dedicated to Baroness von Braun when the work was first published in 1799. At that time a Leipzig critic called it: ‘A melancholy Andante in F minor, with variations so masterful that the piece almost sounds like a free fantasy.’ And indeed it does. Instead of having just one theme, there are two: one in the minor which begins sorrowfully but is beautifully poised, interrupted by a ‘Neapolitan’ G flat major chord played forte, and then a second contrasting theme in the major with carefree figurations that considerably lighten the mood. This is true fortepiano music—showing off the dynamic possibilities now available to keyboard players. The first theme then returns, now in syncopation, while the second has the addition of trills to show the player’s dexterity. The next ‘set’ has rapid yet wonderfully lyrical figurations in the minor part, becoming more excited by that crashing G flat major chord each time it returns. The major variations keep up the pace, introducing some flying triplets. Then the opening Andante is repeated for twenty-one bars before suddenly Haydn decides to take a new turn. In fact, looking at a facsimile of the manuscript, you can see that he originally planned to end the work here, with a short coda in the major. But then something made him change his mind and the piece turns into this truly remarkable ‘free fantasy’. It suddenly becomes incredibly dramatic, with expressive silences, surging chromaticisms, tremolos, and wild scales, all the while maintaining the dotted rhythm of the opening theme. It eventually calms down and fades into almost nothing in a coda worthy of Beethoven at his best.

There is a theory that this piece is linked to Haydn’s tragic opera L’anima del filosofo, which relates the story of the Orpheus myth. In November of 1792, Haydn wrote to his friend (and perhaps his great love?) Marianne von Genzinger, asking her to return the final big Aria in F minor from this opera so that he could have it copied. It was his last letter to her as she died two months later, at the age of forty-two. The drama of the coda, with its inconsolable ending, certainly makes this a possibility.

The F minor Variations were perhaps first conceived as a movement within a sonata, and indeed that word stands on the cover page. To one of the copies of the autograph Haydn added the heading ‘Un piccolo Divertimento Scritto e composto per la Stimatissima Signora de Ployer’. ‘A small divertissement’ it certainly is not, and this could not have been more than an ironic understatement.

Haydn once admitted: ‘I was a wizard on no instrument, but I knew the strength and working of all.’ The ‘all’ even included the kettle-drums. Listening to the last of his piano sonatas, the Piano Sonata in E flat major Hob XVI:52, one could be excused for thinking that Haydn must have been a virtuoso pianist. But in fact this piece was written in 1794 for yet another gifted female, Therese Jansen, who was a pupil of Muzio Clementi and a popular pianist and teacher in London. Haydn was a witness at her wedding to the art dealer Gaetano Bartolozzi the following year. She could not have been lacking in technique, as this is the most demanding of all of Haydn’s piano works. But it requires more than technique. All of the trademarks of Haydn’s style are present: the sudden dynamic contrasts, the expressive silences, the wit, the charm, the surprises, and most of all the juxtaposition of remote keys. The outer movements of course are both in E flat major, but the middle movement appears in E major which could not come as more of a shock. Haydn has unwittingly prepared us for that with a few brief bars in that key during the development section of the first movement, but the surprise is still great. It is interesting to note that while Haydn was writing his last three piano sonatas, his pupil Beethoven was publishing his first three (the Op 2 set which he dedicated to his teacher). And not only that, but the sublime slow movement of the Beethoven’s Sonata in C major, Op 2 No 3, is also in E major. The Haydn is sophisticated music, masterfully crafted and brought to a brilliant conclusion. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, Haydn was often labelled ‘childlike’ (E T A Hoffmann started it in 1810 when he said Haydn’s compositions expressed ‘a childlike mood of serene well-being’). A book I had as a child (and still have), first published in 1936, was entitled Haydn, The Merry Little Peasant. Nothing could be less appropriate for this last piano sonata. I think Brahms was more apt when he wrote in 1896, the year before he died: ‘What a man: beside him we are just wretches.’

Angela Hewitt © 2009

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